Laurel Highlands will feature diversity in backfield
On the Laurel Highlands' depth chart, there is only one line available for the starting running back position, but that's really just a formality. Coach Zack Just knows he has six potential starters, all with game-changing ability, creating the perfect combination of players to run the newly implemented double-wing offense.
“We don't have that true 20-25 carry-a-game back,” Just said. “We're looking at seven to eight guys to touch the ball on a Friday night.”
On the heels of a 1-9 2012 campaign, the Mustangs scrapped the playbook and installed the zone-blocking, space-creating, opportunistic double-wing this offseason in hopes of giving opposing defenses a game-planning headache.
“We're obviously going to try and spread it around and keep defenses honest,” Just said. “Each guy is a little bit different, and hopefully it becomes a challenge for defenses to game-plan for all of them.”
The Mustangs' ‘home run' threat is junior running back Dontay Jacobs, who broke his leg in Week 5 last year against Trinity.
Jacobs stayed the course last year rehabbing, regaining strength and coming back for track season, but what he wants most is the opportunity to play under the lights again.
“I'm real excited. Probably more excited than I've ever been,” Jacobs said. “Just to know I can get this full season again.”
Jacobs plays wingback and A-back in Just's new offense, creating more running opportunities inside the box as well as on the edge.
“I'm getting the ball more between the tackles and running through the line,” Jacobs said of the offense so far. “I like getting the ball in space and between the tackles.”
Fellow junior Jason Leone is a changeup to Jacobs' speed. Leone doesn't like to dance in the backfield, which is why he feels the new offense will benefit the runners.
“You have to hit your gaps and go,” Leone said. “It's great because a lot of the wingbacks are extremely fast.”
Leone said timing is everything in an offense that takes advantage of angles and numbers. Seamlessly receiving handoffs can make or break a play, especially if the quarterback's read is correct and the blocking holds up.
“The running backs have really been working closely with the quarterbacks to get the timing perfect,” Leone said. “The offense runs off of perfect timing.”
Just also expects sophomore quarterbacks Jimmy Pierce and Christian Jones to compete for reps, giving the Mustangs more running threats.
“Jimmy Pierce is extremely hard to bring down when he has the ball,” Just said. “He's very shifty.”
Backs Jordan Vecchiollla, Coron Mains and Dominic Galderisi will be called upon to contribute, but for Just there won't be a set rotation or number of reps.
“For me as the guy calling the plays, I think you have to stick with the hot hand,” Just said. “If you try to have a set rotation you limit yourself. If one of those guys gets hot they're going to carry it, there's no doubt.”
Justin Criado is a freelance writer.